The Waltzing Matilda Boat floats down the Macclesfield Canal serving hand-stretched pizzas
The Macclesfield Canal runs for 27 miles across east Cheshire, beginning at a junction with the Peak Forest Canal at Marple. As well as being a favourite for walkers, joggers cyclists, and boaters, the canal has also become a pit-stop for pizza lovers.
A narrowboat called The Waltzing Matilda floats through the Cheshire canal, making weekend pitstops to serve Neapolitan wood-fired pizzas and artisan bakery goods. Since opening last spring, the café has visited towns and villages across the region, such as Poynton, Bollington and Lyme view.
It has recently reopened for the warmer seasons after a break during the winter, and now the travelling takeaway has attracted masses of customers every weekend. It is only open on Saturday and Sunday as the founders, father-son duo Paul and Chris Edwards, also have full-time jobs.
Each week, regulars patiently await for the duo to share the boat’s weekend coordinates, the MEN reports. For Paul, who has lived on a canal boat for over five years now, and Chris, a professional chef, the idea – like most great ones – came about over a brew.
Chris, who is also a chef at Tom Kerridge’s Bull & Bear restaurant in Manchester, said: “To be honest it all started over lockdown when I was on furlough. I’m not really the sort of person to sit around and do nothing. We had been toying with the idea for a while, and we were just sitting on his boat, discussing ideas and we decided on pizza.”
Named after his niece Matilda, who was rather aptly born on a narrowboat around the time the concept was coming to fruition, the venture is well and truly a family affair. “We went on a canal boat holiday when I was a kid, and I think my dad has always just loved the idea of being on a boat,” says Chris.
“He moves around, he’s what you call a continental cruiser, so every two weeks he moves location. He picks the quieter, more idyllic spots whereas with the Matilda we always try to find busy, buzzy spots.”
Offering a modern take on classic Neapolitan pizzas – the detail really is in the dough – the Italian delicacy is cooked in a custom-made pizza oven homed at one end of the boat. Taking influence from the pizzerias of Naples, the base of the oven was crafted using high quality Biscotto stone, which helps to slowly dissipate the heat of the oven and prevents the base of the pizza from burning.
“In my last job we had a pizza oven and I started to learn a bit about dough and I found I was good at it, but then I went and got trained by a guy called Marco Fuso, he’s like the godfather of modern pizza,” says Chris. “I learnt some really cool techniques.
“A classic, Neapolitan pizza is a direct dough and you make it on the day. It has to be done to really exacting standards.
“But we pre-ferment our dough, so I make something called a biga and pre-ferment that the day before. The next day I finish it and it adds a tangy flavour, but it also makes the dough a lot softer.”
Served through a hatch on the side of the boat, Chris likes to keep the toppings simple. First up, there’s the Margherita, Marinara and Pepperoni, which are then accompanied by The Swagman – made with spicy chorizo, ‘nduja, fresh chilli and topped with hot honey and candied jalapeno – and the Prosciutto Crudo E Rucola, which comes presented with prosciutto, fresh chilli, Grana Padano cheese, fresh rocket and chilli oil.
As one might expect, there’s a lot of groundwork that goes into delivering freshly cooked pizzas on a canal boat, and both Chris and Paul put in a lot of hours in to make it possible. “The week never ends because every night we’re picking up supplies,” explains Chris.
“I finish work on Friday and drive up to the boat and start to pre-ferment the dough. Then, I get there at six on Saturday morning and start making the dough.
“Currently I have to make three batches of dough because my mixer isn’t big enough. After the treatments are done, we then mix it with the rest of the ingredients, boil it and then it has to prove for eight hours, so once I’ve done all that I start my prep of toppings, dips and tomato sauce.
“It’s a long day and I feel for my dad because he’s not from a kitchen background like I am. He does long days as well as a bus inspector, but he’s learning and trying to work with the dough, so he’s putting a lot of effort in.”
Chris’ homemade dips span confit garlic mayo, ‘nduja mayo and pesto mayo, and each week he creates a few one-off pizzas to keep regulars one their toes. This week’s specialties include Pumpkin and Sausage with wild broccoli, fennel sausage, red chilli jam and confit garlic oil, and Beef n’ Blue created with the signature San Marzano tomato and fior di latte mozzarella, plus spicy beef and blue cheese.
While pizza orders have to be placed ahead of time, freshly roasted coffee, artisan bakes, and luxury hot chocolates are available from the boat’s hatch across the two days. Using the alias ‘Boaty Bakes’, Chris’ sister Rebecca makes around 80 percent of the bakes, while the rest are supplied by local bakeries including Silver Apples Bakery in Stockport and DGHNT based in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.
The fit-out of the narrowboat has meant that their initial plans to seat a small number of guests inside was not realised, but this has not deterred visitors, and most places it moors up have an area for seating on the towpath. “It’s been absolutely mental and the amount of people who have wanted to come down is far beyond what we could have imagined, so while we planned to have four or five tables on the boat, it would just have been too exclusive and too many people would be missing out. Secondly, I needed a lot more space for the kitchen than I thought.”
Despite it being difficult to balance full-time work alongside the demands of running their own business, both Chris and Paul have made it look like plain sailing, and The Waltzing Matilda’s continued success is a testament to the pair’s hard work and dedication. “I love it, I am so proud of it and what it’s become and where we’re going,” says Chris, who mentions in passing that they may be eyeing up a double-decker bus for their next foodie venture.
“I didn’t really expect it, I thought it would just be a small thing, but, it’s becoming a fully-fledged entity in places like Marple. We’ve never had a bad review because people understand that what we’re doing is a bit unique.”
To find out more about The Waltzing Matilda, and where it is headed next, visit the website here